Euro Cross Academy: Excitement builds as juniors head into World Cup action

'Later in the evening, as we talk through the course in our evening pre-race briefing, all my anxiousness melts away as I know I am as prepared as I’ll ever be,' writes Elias Saigh.

Photo: Myles Saigh

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ECA Journal #6
29 October 2022
Rider: Elias Saigh
Hometown: Milwaukie, WI
Photos: @cyclocrosss

We step out of the van and are greeted by a beautiful fall day. Yet it doesn’t feel right. It is ‘cross season, after all, so shouldn’t it be cold and rainy? Nevertheless, I am eager to get on my bike after a slightly extended drive due to some questionable Google maps directions. Although we have pieced together a few choppy video clips in the days prior, after a short ride, we finally get our first look at the Maasmechelen course. As I start my pre-ride, I immediately realize it feels really similar to some local races in Wisconsin: slow hairpins, tricky gravel corners, steep punchy uphills and short bumpy straights.

As we do our recon, my teammate Ben Stokes beautifully states, “this ground is atrocious. It feels like they rode through on horses before they made this course.”

Also read: Euro Cross Academy: Keeping the fun in racing

After a few laps, ECA Director Geoff reminds us to check out the start straight as it is not part of the normal lap. A few of us gather at the start line and notice that with the short pavement straight immediately into a sharp right-hand corner, there is bound to be a crash and staying clean through the first 30 seconds will be a crucial part of the race.

Gradually, as our pre-ride starts to wrap up, lines start to finally get worn in and I really begin to get a feel for the techy sections and decide it is probably time to cool down and get back to the van.

As I ride back along the bike path, I start to think, how did I even get here? A year ago, I had just competed in my first UCI cyclocross race and here I am pre-riding for my second World Cup of the season. I’ve watched so many of these races and always admired the racers in them. I just can’t break the feeling that I do not belong here with these kids that have so much more experience. It just doesn’t feel right, but I keep trying to remind myself that everyone in this race, including myself, has earned a spot to be here and we are all just here to race our bikes.

Arriving back at the vans, I see my USA teammates stretching with European music blasting out of the van. Immediately, I start to feel more at ease in the welcome company of my peers.

Later in the evening, as we talk through the course in our evening pre-race briefing, all my anxiousness melts away as I know I am as prepared as I’ll ever be.

All that’s left to do is race my bike.

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